On Nottingham and Indiepop and Belonging

At the start of this month I went to the Nottingham Pop Alldayer, my first visit to one of the mainstays of the indiepop calendar. I love how I’m part of a scene that has regular big events that punctuate the year with pop. No matter how tedious or difficult your everyday existence, you never have to wait very long until the next time you’re standing in a room watching bands that you love with people that you love. Become part of indiepop and you’re always safe in the knowledge that you’re never more than nine weeks away from a fresh opportunity to apply glitter.

Nottingham was great. Must admit I’d had concerns over the venue. Too hot, I’d heard. Poor ventilation, said another. Not phrases that fill someone who experiences regular migraine attacks with any confidence that they’d reach the end of the evening without keeling over, losing speech or experiencing the fleeting paralysis that my tiny brain can achieve all without the aid of strong drink. As it was, my fears were unfounded and I had a great time.

Knowing that I can no longer stand up for twelve hours, I reluctantly opted not to join everyone for pretty much all of the first half of pop fun. And whilst I was sad to miss City Yelps, The Hobbes Fanclub (I’d caught their album launch last month and they were ace), The Fireworks, Night Flowers, Manhattan Love Suicides, and later, When Nalda Became Punk, I knew I’d potentially saved my friends the hassle of having to look after a poorly me later in the evening. With the rest of the Sheffields that I’d arrived with now safely ensconced in the venue, I had some time to explore. The Maze is in an interesting part of Nottingham and a few doors down from the venue was a lovely real ale pub that did superb veggie food. Not far away from the lovely real ale pub was a gorgeous second hand bookshop (complete with authentic 1930s till), so mashed potato, John Donne and a disorganised hotel check in provided the entertainment until I arrived late afternoon to catch the majority of  the noisy tuneful aceness supplied by Slum of Legs.

Another trip for delicious veggie food later, I was back to watch The Spook School. Bloody hell, I love The Spook School. Niall’s between song banter is a delight (I wonder if he’s seen Peter Cook’s Revolver…) and for other bands it might upstage the music but this is The Spook School and their quality catchy tunes refuse to be in anything other than the limelight. They can do light and shade with the best of them, too. The moment of hush in the audience when Nye sang a song so clearly rooted in personal experience was both breathtaking and humbling. I hope that my own writing and creative endeavours can match that level of emotional honesty. As a band, their songs don’t half stay with you and five days later you find yourself singing I am bigger than a hexadecimal to the bemusement of a South Yorkshire pensioner, as you select a “reduced for quick sale” loaf in Asda.

Oh, Milky Wimpshake! It occurred to me during their set that if I stood any closer to Pete Dale I’d either a) be on stage with him or b) be issued with a restraining order. The mighty Wimpshake have been my post Indietracks soundtrack having purchased Popshaped from the merch tent (remember I’m really new to Indiepop so I have lots to catch up on). Bus journeys to work have been vastly improved by listening to Hackney and Cheque Card over the past few months. This was only my second live Wimpshake experience. I want more. If The Sweet Nothings didn’t exist (let’s not imagine this) I’m fairly certain Milky Wimpshake would be my favourites. Or would that be The Mini Skips? Or perhaps Lardpony? Or The Swapsies. Oh, you’re all my favourites. Especially if you’re the Nothings.

The School gave us that bit of Indiepop that is all 60s harmonies and melodies and loveliness and glock. Music that if you close your eyes transports you back in time into a world of Dansettes, pretty frocks, beautifully applied eyeliner, boys with ace haircuts and permanent sunshine. Or Indietracks, as we like to call it.

During The School, the headline acts started to arrive. You can tell they are the headline acts because the haircuts become more expensive.  I faintly recall that back in mists of time I may have woken up in Spearmint T-Shirt that was not my own. Scandalous! They played some new stuff and this was when their set came alive. I like watching how bands interact when they’re playing newer material. Observing the freshness and urgency of delivery can be just as fun as hearing an old favourite.

Topping the bill were The Lovely Eggs. During their set I committed the ultimate act of indiepop treason. Yes. I sat down during The Lovely Eggs. If there ever was a band you’re supposed to enjoy standing up it is The Lovely Eggs. Look, I was still doing the sausage roll thumb hand aloft, I was just giving my feet a rest at the same time.

The bands were ace, so was the jewellery stall and the record stall. But even acer than the bands was catching up with everyone. You all feel like family now. Even those of you whose names I don’t know yet feel like the distant cousins whose presence at a wedding feels rather comforting. If this awkward only child has ever belonged anywhere it is here: Indiepop.

Thanks to all the Nottingham pop organisers, you’re all heroes in my book (The Bumper Lost in Indiepop Annual 2015).

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Happy New (Indiepop) Year!

I’ve had the same Christmas stocking since I was about 3 years old. No fluffy handcrafted from the shedding coats of organically-raised alpacas then shipped to John Lewis stocking for me. I was born in 1977 to a mum and dad who were “lucky to get an orange and a bag of nuts for Christmas” and grew up in a small mining town on the outskirts of Stoke. Therefore my stocking is bright red plastic, with an odd faux-Victorian font and a picture of Santa’s face on it. I love it. Its arrival outside my bedroom door (or at the foot of my bed when I was really little) can still produce childish squeals of delight, albeit these days these squeals of delight are generally interspersed with whimpers and me clutching my forehead having risked a small festive gin and tonic on Christmas Eve.

There are presents within this stocking that I can rely on being there every year. Pens. Writing pads. A Terry’s Chocolate Orange wedged into the toe of the stocking. And, as I got older, a calendar. Always a calendar. These last few years I’ve got a Jack Vettriano one. The Vettriano calendars are great (if you like Vettriano, which I do) because they delve into the er, earthier parts of his repertoire that is difficult to get hold of in framed print form, presumably as most reasonable people wouldn’t contemplate having a painting of an immaculately attired gentleman with his hosiery-obsessed companion Dominating their living room wall. Well, they do say that January is the longest month…

There’ll be some indiepop in a minute, I promise.

Anyway, calendars are great because you can write things in them that you can look forward to.

At this time of the year, if Indiepop is important to you, you can get a bit gloomy. You’ve just about managed to clean the Indietracks dust out from between the cracks in your heels. You’ve poured over photos of owls on flickr. Watched endless videos trying to spot yourself in the crowd. You’ve played almost everything you bought in the merch tent about a zillion times. It’s a bit like filling that time between Christmas and New Year. The trimmings and trappings of festivities are still around you but you’re too exhausted to do anything but sit and watch telly.

But wait! Indietracks may well be “our Christmas” (copyright everyone in indiepop) but that means that we’ve got a whole year of Indiepop ahead to dance our sparkly trainers off to! Rejoice! Send your Dad out of the back door with a piece of coal and make him walk in through the front door of POP!

If you haven’t been to Sheffield then JOIN US as we bring in the new Indiepop year. Sheffield’s a great city, with fab pubs that serve piles of cake from the bar (as well as delicious ales) and we’re dead friendly like. It’ll be like going to Edinburgh for Hogmanay. Or summat.

On Friday 22nd August, MMIS are putting on an ace do in the upstairs of the Rutland Arms in Sheffield. Look at the poster! Adorable! And now the line up…you’ve got David Leach with his magnificent ukulele playing, superb knowing lyrics and cheeky audience asides, Jupiter in Jars who are all multi-instrumental and will instantly transport you away from any lingering thoughts of your working week and Alexander Christopher Hale, who I haven’t seen yet but who I am reliably informed offers “Heart-breaking musical vignettes that dabble in obscurity and obscenity, but always sincerity.” The upstairs room of the Rutland Arms is a magical venue for acoustic indiepop. You should join us here.

On Sunday 24th August the completely fab Ladiyfest are hosting what looks like a total cracker  (I’ll give up with the Christmas imagery in a minute) of an event, with a line up including Colour Me Wednesday, Hallie and the Annies, The Middle Ones and, fresh from Indietracks, Elopes. Not forgetting the zine stall, vegan cupcakes, BBQ and ace invert Dj-ing. The following day, August Bank Holiday Monday, is my second Indiepop Sheffield Friends Anniversary, so it’s bound to get emotional. Or at least beery. Or possibly beery and emotional. Either way there will be cake.

And also…D-I-S-C-O-S

You like 90s Indie, right? Then come and watch the Master of Indie and Pop at work. Daniel Hartley (Pop-o-Matic) offers you Come Out 2Night, a 90s Indie night “Playing loads of 90’s britpop, grunge, college rock, lo-fi, baggy, hip hop, shoegaze, dance and other made up genres.” Trust me, this is the disco of YOUR LIFE. Or should that be This Life? It’s on 13th September, which my calendar tells me is a Saturday so you’ve got all day on Sunday to travel back from whence you came. Dan will even give you five whole days to recover (he’s nice like that) before MMIS offer you The Hobbes Fanclub’s album launch party, with Sheffield’s very own The Sweet Nothings and others in support. I can’t link to this event because it is HOT OFF THE PRESS.

Have the complete and utter misfortune of being based Darn Sarf? Let me offer you my heartiest condolences. But don’t fear! Sheffield has recently exported two of its indiepop finest, The Mini Skips, to Bristol. In their promotery/label guise of My Little Owl they are preparing a plethora of perfect pop to delight you on Saturday 6th September. The venue looks lovely and the line up includes not only The Mini Skips but also The Hi Life Companion and Peru! And many, many more. Eh, maybe the south isn’t so bad after all…

There are tonnes of other things going on as well. So don’t mope. Well, you can mope for a bit if you want. Then stick those dates on your calendar and start crossing them off like you’re Peter Barlow in The Big House. Before you know it, it’ll be time for you to put on your sparkly trainers and dig out your glitter gun. Pop is waiting for you. Now go and get it. Happy New Year!

Your first Indietracks…

Last year was my first Indietracks. Eee, it were grand.

Anyway, if this is your first Indietracks here are some pointers on preparing for and making the most of the best weekend of your life.

Sort out your accommodation

Hmm. Good luck with this if you haven’t do so already. Those chain hotels book up really quickly. I blame Lenny Henry. If you’re one of the brave souls who are camping, pack a spare tent in case your tent gets flooded/hit by lightning/taken over on the last evening by someone who has declared the campsite to be the first indiepop republic and wants to use it to house the Department of Sparkly Things.

Go to some warm up gigs

You need to put the hours in to perfect that indie kid shuffle. My preferred way to warm up my shuffling feet is to attend Going Up The Country (GUTC), a lovely charity all-dayer in a pub beer garden in Congleton (look it up). Of all of the indiepop events I’ve attended, this one feels the most Indietracks-like. As well as all the ace music there are lovely merch and craft stalls, a tombola and the event even has its own ale, the infamous Pristine Chrstine. Kev and Linda go to great lengths to secure a wide range of quality acts that delight the indiepop kids and bemuse (and eventually delight) the locals. If you’ve ever wanted to sing If You Don’t Pull in a mass indiepop singalong in a pub full of aging men who still think that Buddy Holly is topping the Hit Parade, this is the event for you. Stick it in yer calendar for next year, you won’t regret it and as well as ace bands you’ll get to see loads of people that you haven’t seen since Indietracks.

Here’s a photo of The Sweet Nothings on GUTC’s famous side-of-a-truck stage:

The Sweet Nothings at GUTC 2014

Perhaps you could go to their gig in Cambridge tonight to warm up your indiekid shuffle? It’ll be ace, I promise.

Pack your entire wardrobe

Check that weather forecast. Then check it again. Then check it a third time. Then give up and pack for every possible weather eventuality. Sundress? Check. Snorkel? Possibly. Cardigan? I’m not dignifying that question with an answer, this is Indiepop.

Get there

Last year the trip to the hotel from the station by taxi took longer than my actual train journey. Be patient. Allow yourself plenty of time like I didn’t.

Tell your friends if you have health conditions

Although I can now personally vouch for the friendliness of the team of Red Cross Volunteers.

Take some breaks

See above. Take a look at that schedule. That’s a lot of bands. Keep your energy levels up. I particularly enjoyed my emergency waffle and the delicious Gopal’s curry.

Bring spare shoes

It’s dusty. It might be a bit muddy. I didn’t account for this last year and wrecked two pairs of shoes in the process (including my beloved DMs 1992 – 2013 RIP) so bring footwear that enhances your outfit but that you wouldn’t feel distraught about chucking in the recycling bin afterwards.

Visit all the stages

Try and get around all the stages if you can. The atmosphere in the church can be magical (it was well worth queuing in the rain to ensure a seat for Haiku Salut last year) and where else can you go to a gig on a moving steam train? The indoor stage, the engine shed, is by the bar so gets really busy (especially when we have the rain that is definitely not forecast for this year) but is a great place to make new friends. The outdoor stage feels surprisingly intimate and I may have had a little weep there last year during The Wave Pictures lovely set.

Get chatting

Everyone’s dead friendly like, so even if you’re a bit shy don’t be afraid to break into conversation with the person in front of you in the queue for the church/ladies/curry. You might make a new friend or even get some free badges.

Have the time of your life

Like the song from that film where the girl with the curly hair gets the guy with the amazing shoulders (for some reason I’ve always loved that film) doesn’t quite go “You’re having the time of your life and you’ve never felt this way before” so ignore everything I’ve said above and just go with whatever works for you. Fall in love with a place that makes your heart beat as fast as it did for the first boy at school that you fell for who played a guitar.  Now click your sparkly trainers together three times and repeat after me: There’s no place like Swanwick Junction. There’s no place like Swanwick Junction. There’s no place like Swanwick Junction…

 

Little Owl One, Rutland Arms, 29th June 2013

Little Owl 29:06:13

The light filtered through the blinds of  the upstairs windows of the Rutland Arms and shone onto the dansettes like it was some sort of Indiepop heaven. And for a few hours, it was. My Little Owl is a new indiepop venture for popkids Vinnie and Markie (aka The Mini Skips) and this inaugural gig was a cracker.

Wistful

First up was Pete Green, perennial pop purveyor of this parish. You know the one: stripy tops, clever lyrics, guitar held together with stickers (now including Grimbsy’s area dialling code). As the set progressed Pete navigated some deft changes in style and tone from the singalong, crowd-pleasing Best British Band Supported by Shockwaves opener and a neat cover of Martin Solveig’s Hello, to more reflective material from his new album, The Glass Delusion. Pilot Light is a beautiful song and a fine example of  his oft-deployed catchy chorus/clever lyrics combo. Pete refers to his more reflective stuff  as “sparklegloom” but I prefer fellow Little Owl One performer Daniel’s observation of “knockout w(h)ist”

John T. Angle was a new act for me and her set was a treat. Indiepop is full of the kind of voices that you would trade your right arm for and her voice definitely falls into this category (sadly my right arm is very useful for things like lifting alcoholic beverages so I’m stuck with my unremarkable tonsils for now). By the end of her set there was a tear in my eye. I hope we’ll see her again at future gigs in Sheff.

More wistful? You decide.

I’m fairly certain that The French Defence is the first indiepop act that I saw live, in the very same venue. If you have the Indietracks compliation album (and if not, why not?) you’ll be familiar with its lovely opening number If You Still Want Him and yes, the rest of The French Defence’s set is that good, if erring a little more on the side of wistful. Indeed, it was mooted at one point that he’d managed to out-wist Pete Green. To be honest, it was too difficult to call, so I vote that the pair of them do some sort of cardigans-at-dawn, wist off outside the merch tent at Indietracks to settle this vital matter of indiepop importance.

Having missed most of their set at Going Up The Country due to my friend’s child need to eat food and play some sort of cricket game app on his mother’s phone, I was pleased to get another chance to watch The Sunbathers. Despite their base in the land-locked East Midlands, their devotion to retaining a seaside vibe makes it hard not to be uplifted. One of the joys of indiepop is the more than occassional appearance of a melodica and The Sunbathers generated several envious glances as they produced not one but two of these marvellous instruments. Anyway, their set was so lovely that I listened intently and let my chip butty go cold.

A short interval treated us to Tonieeeeeeeeeeeeeeee’s Wheels of Steel and where else but in an indie pop gig would you hear such forgotten gems as track seven from the acclaimed album Banjo Party Time?

Post-interval and further treats were still to be unleashed. The Mini Skips were a delight, as ever. Mark and Vinnie’s voices work so beautifully together and their cover of the Dean Friedmann classic Lucky Stars is always something to look forward to. New material such as Evil/Shy complements Advice for New Lovers as they deliver their Good Cop/Bad Cop take on romance. Lyrically, bad cop always wins for me. Their sets always leave me with a big soppy grin on face and that night was no exception.

Despite Norbert the Bear’s strop (artistic differences?), Daniel and Norbert Dentressangle played a blinder. As ever, the set was enhanced by Daniel’s superbly deadpan wit. World of Sandwiches – surely the only song about falling in love with one’s future spouse that mentions a delicatessen counter – is joyfully memorable to the point where after only one listen you’re guaranteed to hum it every single time you set foot in a sandwich emporium. Despite, or probably precisely because of its title, the song is wonderfully heartfelt and, like indiepop itself, makes you believe the world can occassionally be good.

The Bees Niece, who hail from Norway via Salford, had a unique sound, which entirely suited the venue and the hour. Employing a range of instruments (including a saw) and influences (British weather, Socialism, Swahili) they deliver something rather magical, poetic and witty. They also delivered possibly my favourite lyric of the night “I didn’t occupy Palestine and neither did my bike” from Stolen Bike. I hope I get a chance to see them again in Sheff soon.

The night’s headliner, Kirsty McGee, delivered a set that was both intimate and powerful in its delivery. Her beautiful song Sandman was featured in the recent Danny Boyle film Trance. Listening to live music in such a small venue can be incredibly moving and such was the haunting power of Kirsty’s voice, I can honestly report that I was in tears for most of it. Sometimes such moments in life are necessary and to cry to such beautiful sounds can feel like a honour.

All in all, a wonderful night. Thanks My Little Owl.

Next up, a review of Macho Music Is Stupid’s recent definitely-nothing-to-do-with-Tramlines-for-legal-purposes frankly stonking all dayer. Hopefully, by which time, I will have discovered how to edit. This post has been lonnnng. Thanks for sticking with it.

Facing the inevitable

There are precious few inevitable certainties in life. Night generally follows day. The toast knife always lands butter-side down on the kitchen floor. The cute boy that you like, then love, then marry and then move to various parts of the UK for eventually tells you that he doesn’t love you any more* and eventually shacks up in your marital home with an impossibly cute woman from the Canary Islands who likes to dress up as a unicorn**. Actually, that last point probably lacks resonance for most of you. Apologies for the self-indulgence.

Anyway, the most inevitable certainty over the last few months has been the creation of this blog. For the past year I’ve been immersed in the lovely cardigan-clad, ukuele-wielding world of indiepop. I’ve been observing, photographing, laughing, drinking, occasionally crying but mostly being really bloody happy. And being a bit of a gobshite with too much time on her hands it was only a matter of time before the whole blog thing happened.

Indiepop’s only been in my life for a short time but it’s already proved to be a steadfast provider of joy and unadulterated happiness. Which is more than I can say for….no, Kelly. This is not the place.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a potted history of indiepop, an exhaustive knowledge of bands, sub-genres and musical influences, then it’s best that you go and find another indiepop blog. It’ll be tonnes better than this one, I promise.

However, if you have the remotest interest in how many chocolate brownies I manage to consume at an average gig (1.3), which band won me over with their exploding pineapples (The Thyme Machine) and how Dan from The Sweet Nothings really broke his clavicle (sorry, still classified), then you’re probably in the right place. And I bet, despite the sub-saharan temperatures outside, you’re still wearing a really lovely cardigan.

* Please don’t feel too bad for me. I did snog his mate once. Who then moved to Spain. So it’s probably karma or summat.
**No, really. I’m sure she’s dead lovely though.